Sunday, April 26, 2015

Massachusetts Strongest Man...improving with improvisation

Disgraceful to myself that I got so nervous about my latest strongman competition.  I had so little implement training time for this and it flat-out made me nervous.  I allowed my previous, luxuriously-outfitted gym to lull me into thinking that without implement time, I was going to bomb on this heavier Massachusetts Strongest Man Competition.  I was so tense that I needed some lower back work by the much-appreciated chiropractor on site at the competition. 

I didn't have a log and I hadn't touched a log in over a year.  I had no car deadlift set-up or a 500 lbs frame.   I do have sandbags, some kegs, a fire hydrant and just prior to the comp I scored an anchor chain.  With no place inside to train these and a winter that just didn't want let go of the ice all over my driveway,  it would seem that I was kind of screwed. 

Bullshit.  Such thinking was never part of my mindset prior to all of this and I was determined to not let it become that way again for this training cycle.  I'd just have to get creative, like I always have.  So what did I do and how did it call come out?  I'll elaborate...

The Log Press
Of all of the events I'd have to do, this was probably the most difficult to improvise for.  The log is technical and there isn't a great direct substitute.  Overhead pressing in my training environment is even more fraught with issues since I have a low-ceiling basement that only really allows the use of my kettlebells over standing overhead training.  I did do some overhead work outside before my driveway turned to pure ice and the frequent sub-zero temperatures made my fingers go numb. 

So, heavy, double kettlebell pressing was the only play I had.  I'd clean them and push-press away, doing heavy sets of 2-5 reps for as many sets as I could or had time for.  Then, I'd strip off some weight in ten lbs increments and do three sets of strict presses, taking off 10 lbs each set. 


My previous best on a log was 180 lbs, over a year ago when I was fresh off physical therapy restrictions but was training the log a couple of times per week.  I managed only one rep with 200 lbs.  This felt more like a technique issue since the one rep felt weirdly easy when I got it.  I didn't attempt more because my knee made one of those disturbing pop noises and I elected to stop since I still had a whole competition to complete.   Sixth place, but no zero.

The Car Deadlift
Without a doubt, this was by biggest success in spite of having no car deadlift frame to use.  Back in Tampa, I discovered that a barbell hack squat was very similar to a car deadlift.  So similar that I'm downright shocked that practically nobody uses them to train for it.  I guess it's a sign of the blind hegemony of modified powerlifting routines that dominate strongman programming.  Dumb shits. 
video

I think the reason why this so closely resembles the car deadlift lies in the fact that to successfully hack squat, you have to move your hips very quickly forward so the barbell doesn't smash into your hamstrings or your ass as you hoist it upwards.   That's the exact, same hip movement in the car deadlift. 

This was supposed to be a heavy car lift.  Unfortunately, the frame wasn't set up properly and it turned into a rep festival.  I took third place in this event, getting credited with 38 reps.  Carryover at its finest. 

Keg Carry and Chain Drag
I was disappointed with this one more than any other event.  I had the most implement time with this event and I didn't place well at all.  I had to run 50' with a 200 lbs keg and then grab the anchor chain and run 50' backwards.
video

This is what I was preparing for:  550 lbs drag here!
 

I planned this out pretty well.  Since I have stupid-long arms, I was going to use my knee to push the keg high up on my chest and grab it on both sides.  In practice runs, it worked beautifully.  I rigged up a tire sled with 150 lbs of chain to drag it by before I got my anchor chain.  Once I got my anchor chain, which weighed around 550 lbs, I figured out that I could go two seconds faster if I grabbed both ends of the chain and dragged. 

So, I figured I'd have this one sewn up. 

The disgruntled face of dashed plans...

I was the third slowest time.  The keg we ran with had a bizarre, two inch bulged rim that ran around the middle of the keg.  I didn't want to chance dropping the keg since It was obviously wider than my practice one.  The anchor chain was easily 200 lbs lighter and had a cut-off link at one end that wouldn't allow me to grab both ends.  So, this turned more into a test of foot speed than how much weight I could drag. 

Dude, where's the other 200 lbs?
500 lbs Frame Hold
I don't want to say that I have great grip strength, but I certainly have enough to do strongman.  That was definitely something I had going for me when I started the sport.  I thought I had placed worse than I really had on this one.  I got 31.3 seconds, coming in 4th for this event. 

When it comes to grip work, I've gotten to the point where I'd rather just throw in a grip element into my training movements where it doesn't hinder the progress of the overall set too much.  So, I high rep-deadlifted, hack squatted, rowed, and curled with my axle mostly.  Often times, I'd hold reps on my hacks and my deads for as long as possible.   I did a lot of rope climbing too.  So, while I beat myself up a bit for not holding longer, in the end I didn't do too bad on this one at all. 

Odd Object Load
This is another event that went pretty well for me too.  Initially, we were supposed to pick up, carry, and load a fire hydrant, a 200 lbs sandbag, a 200 lbs keg, and a 240 lbs atlas stone onto a 54" platform.  On the day of the show, the carry was eliminated (to save time) and a field stone was substituted for the hydrant (much to my chagrin). 

I do this kind of stuff all the time, both for work and for fun.  Plus, I also do a lot of Zercher Lifting to strengthen the muscles I'd use to load stuff.  Another mystery to me is why not that many strongmen throw in stiff-legged deadlift work into their training since so much of what we do involves getting shit off the ground in a stiff-legged fashion. 
video

While I took 4th in this event, I had some of the cleanest lifts.  Except for dropping the stone because I didn't get myself situated dead-center of the stone, I had the some of the technically-sound lifting in the show, it seemed.   The sandbag was left loose and that gave a lot of people fits.  Another fun part for others was the rule that the keg had to be stood up.  Neither bothered me. 

So, overall, I had  a weak event (the log) and a disappointing event (keg and chain) but the events I placed high were pretty well executed and I took 5th place out of 9.  As I got to the end of the competition, I realized that at 5'10" and 205 lbs, I was probably the smallest guy in this novice class.   The winner was 6'5" and 300 lbs.  Fittingly enough, he looks a little bit like Thor Bjornson.  

What I was happy with was this show was heavier than my first and I got no zeros.  I successfully strengthened up my lower body and also put on about 20 lbs since October.  At this point, I'm looking to do Granite State Strongest Man at the end of July as a Middleweight.  At this point, I think I'm done with being a novice and losing events for no other reason than I'm undersized.  I'd like to bump my weight up to 215ish lbs in the meantime.  I tried to get to this weight for this competition but the soreness from training and growing was just becoming a pain in the ass.  Clearly, bulking up should be done when I'm not in the middle of contest preparation. 

In the end, I had a ton of fun and I managed to progress despite being limited by the quantity of the gear I have.  That's been a goal of mine long before I took up the sport.  The affirmation that I can still do so is gratifying. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

So-and-so said and this is what I think: Alex and some anonymous person

There might be too decent of a chunk of my ego that's driven to let you know that I'm not a normal strength trainer.  That variation in strength training is easily explained by the simple fact that while I get acknowledgements (which polite manners dictate that I should accept with a, "thank you") to being strong, I came about that label by unconventional means.  Very simply:  I very rarely trained in gyms like other people around me do.  The past decade or so has been  very top heavy journey of improvisation to get to where I am today.  So, I don't see the same means, movements and methods as the answers to strength like everyone else does. 

Still, my ego has limits.   I abhor any notions that I'm an expert, even the mere thought that I might know what I'm doing.  I generally don't disagree with Alex Viada either so this one has me in some very strange territory:

Had an interesting conversation the other day regarding conveying information, with a certain person not "feeling" like an expert because nothing novel or earth shattering was conveyed during a training this individual gave.
People don't go to experts to be shocked- there are very few fields I've seen where you can speak to an expert and learn something you quite frankly didn't already know. In the time I spent in consulting, I certainly never told a client anything surprising... A coach, even an amazing coach, will rarely, if ever, tell you anything you didn't already "know". When's the last time you read a "10 things you need to fix about your squat" article written by a world-class squatter that told you anything you hadn't heard before?
What the experts will tell you, though, is what matters. They give you focus. They take those six hundred things you already know and tell you which matter the most, and in what order.
Is it right to disagree with a guy whose legs look like this?

I've relayed it before:  when I first started training in a gym in Florida (which lasted well over a year), I really did feel like I had landed on Mars.  My training was so, drastically different than what everyone else around me was doing that for the duration of my visit.  What I considered very important was very, very different from those around me.  WHAT I FOCUSED ON WAS DIFFERENT.  Naturally, you all know I got into strongman and I did it with some of these people.  So, what was so different between me and them in terms of what was and wasn't important that stuck out at me?

Change of movements just don't happen
Bodyweight long ago taught me that to make progress, I'd have to modify the form of the movement that I was doing, sometimes drastically, to keep making strength gains.  Even when I started touching weights, I usually worked with an object of limited ability to modify the weight.  So, once again, I'd change how I moved with it to get progress. 

That just doesn't happen a lot in gyms.  The moves stay pretty constant.  The accessories might change.  Weight just gets added.  The reasons are pretty simple:  competition.  That narrowly defines strength into specific lifts with the most weight.  Since these gyms will also have far more specially adapted environments to improving your performance in competitions, the need to change movements to make progress not necessary. 

up until strongman, I never competed in anything.  I never defined my strength that simply.  I couldn't.  Still, I got strong.  A friend of mine who set records in powerlifting at 20 years old in shirted benching acknowledged that the first time we trained together that I was.  Even now that I do strongman, I love the variety of different lifts in the sport.  So, training movements can vary and still have some success.  Or at least it should...

Powerlifting's foot print has been ENORMOUS
I said that strongman should have some variety to movements in training that I can enjoy but I was kind of surprised when I found out that training generally involved a weekend, "event day", while the rest of the training week often looks suspiciously like 5/3/1 or modified Westside.  Oh, wait, it often IS 5/3/1, Westside, or some other powerlifting-based programming. 

Even in amongst strongmen, everyone loves to talk about their total and their prowess in the three power lifts.  Even the bodybuilders do this.  At least with crossfit, you get a break from this comparison since they don't do them since they're not functional. 

Actually, their functionality in my chosen sport of strongman is questionable to a degree.  Lots of people talk about how wonderful of a base powerlifting can be for strongman but the truth is that there is no real basis to say what previous physical endeavor best prepares you for strongman.  Zydrunas, the consensus-best strongman at the moment, started powerlifting before doing strongman.  Yet, he has traded WSM and Arnold wins with Brian Shaw, who used to play BASKETBALL, as does the heir-apparent to both in WSM, Thor Bjornson.   Before the Zydrunas era, Pudzanowksi dominated strongman and he was an avid martial artist in his childhood years.   Strongman has been largely dominated by guys who never really did a lifting sport before they got into it! 

I never bothered with powerlifting since they have yet to build a cage, barbell, bench and plates that can easily fit in the back of a pick-up.  Plus, my morbid, almost-unreasonable, disgust for the bench press has been well-documented by myself.  So, clearly I have no plans to compete in powerlifting any time soon.  That doesn't seem to have hindered my strongman training too much.

It's surprising to me that such an increasingly marginalized lifting competition continues to be exert such influence since...

LOTS OF THESE PEOPLE DON'T EVEN COMPETE... in anything
So, when you frequent a gym, it seems like you have to be in a group.  Ever notice that?  For purposes of brevity, let's just look at strength training.  You can do bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, Olympic weight lifting, or crossfit.  So, they all have their training protocols and their choice movements that they do to get to their definition of strength. 

video
Why?  Because I can!
 
What I find comical is how many people choose a branch on this tree, but never compete in any of the above.  So, riddle me this:  if you're not going to compete, then why not just do whatever you like to do to lift?  It's surprising to me how many empty headed dumb asses would bench religiously with powerlifters even with no intention of ever powerlifting, even if they weren't fond of benching.  I know I'm not the only one.  What I can't understand is if you don't like a specific lift, then why do it if there is no real need (competition)?

Yes, I will agree that some kind of squat and some kind of deadlift is important to integrate into any good strength training.  Yet, it doesn't have to be a back squat or a conventional deadlift.  Drew Spriggs brought this up in an excellent training article here about how to train for strongman without implements.  Note how many times he brought up stiff-legged deadlifting.  I don't see them done enough depite the obvious carryover.  Odd, since this form of deadlifting is probably more relevant to normal life than the conventional one we're all commanded to do because...POWERLIFTING

"people try so hard to be different from everyone else that they end up being the same as everyone else. Stop trying. Just be who you are. Wtf?! "

Yeah, those kind of people are clearly annoying, even in strength training.  So, I do different shit quite a bit because what's important in my situation to get strong is very different than the rest of the well-equipped world.   I enjoy odd and wacky but it usually has a point.  While I may not totally disagree with such a statement that Alex makes, I do think that too many people out there wearing the expert label don't have the right focus in matters of getting strong.  Their focus has a narrowed field of view.  Maybe they're just like the rest of us:  novices still learning. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Push-ups vs Bench Press: the former shows up in strongman?

Full Definition of CULT

1:  formal religious veneration :  worship
2:  a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also :  its body of adherents
3:  a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also :  its body of adherents
4:  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator cult
s>
5a :  great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially :  such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
b:  the object of such devotion

c :  a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

The definition, copied right out of Merriam-Websters,  must have been completed while in a gym.  The level at which each high school click-modeled strength sports will stay glued to their respective movements would impress Jim Jones (If he were around to be impressed).  One thing that they all kind of agree on the vital importance of the bench press for upper body development.  While my newfound sport will at least relegate this lift to an accessory status, I still guarantee that you could send them, as much as the rest of the strength athletes, into anaphylactic shock should you dare disregard the bench. 

There's plenty of reasons why I think that Ltrain is a fucking riot, even if all of them are formulated from a facebook interaction.  One such example is this little gem.

 
 


Unlike me, a barely year-long extra-don't-know-shit about strongman athlete, Matt pretty much makes every overhead press his bitch.  There's little room to doubt he's the best 175 lbs presser in the USA.  While he does use bench, he's gone without the bar, leaving chest Monday to the flex-Friday crowd.  Naturally, anyone who defies the cult edict about benching is going to earn my man-crush.

Anyone doing push-ups in strongman is rare.  If they're doing it, they're most likely most likely in a darkened room, just in front of the people watching bestiality porn.  They seem almost that far off-limits.  While I may have compromised and added weight to my push-ups a while back, I won't ever write them off.  I refuse to agree that they are an inferior exercise. 

A heavily weighted push up has been firmly in my routine since that article last July.   What I should have done was made a video of the whole ordeal since getting a sandbag to the back is best shown rather than described.  Apologies for my laziness on this front: 
video

Sadly, I've fallen to another form of laziness that pisses me off when working out in a group of Floridians:  being too much of a slug to get out (or put back) training gear.  I left that sandbag in my pick up truck after re-filling it.  It subsequently got cold and all the sand froze up.  I've been procrastinating about bringing it inside so it can thaw and I can start using it again.  So, when I need a weighted push-up, I've been doing one-arm push-ups with chains around my neck. That's firmly in my category of "exercises to do with embarrassingly little weight" since just a 20 lbs chain with a OAPU will tax my upper body to the limit with just 5-8 reps per arm.  Then, it's easy to put them away, so I can continue to be more Florida-like.
 
...and once again, I'm too lazy to shoot a video!
 

Of course, I do still stay true to my BW-only, no-weights roots often.  I even do some high rep push-up work as a finisher to pump some blood into my upper body push muscles.   I still use an old favorite that I haven't blogged about in years:  a 45 rep set of 15 wide, 15 standard, and 15 close-hand push-ups.  I've always loved this one because as you get deeper into the set and move the hands closer together, the distance to move the upper body gets longer.  That makes the set harder out of proportion to the number of reps I'm doing.   Hello, Triceps pump!

I had a friend in Florida who used to taunt me about becoming too much like a mainstream strongman, even using the word, "cult," to describe my entrance into the sport.  While comical, there are a few things I don't think that I'll ever do.  First, I'll never buy rehband shorts.  Second, i'll never let the bench become a regular part of my staple movements.  I just don't like it and I don't need it.   I need a strong chest but I don't need to go about it just like the cult of the bench press princesses go about it.